Nutritionists and other health authorities offer a wide range of opinions on how to construct the ideal healthy diet; it’s difficult to find a consensus on carbohydrates, fats and other nutrients, but most agree that getting adequate quality protein is essential.
USDA recommended protein RDI is 56 grams for men and 46 for women. (1) But some experts believe that’s not enough.
Getting adequate protein for your body type and activity level can be crucial in dropping extra weight while retaining muscle mass, and will also target belly fat that can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases. (2, 3)
Cash in on the benefits of eating plenty of quality protein by cruising this list of high-protein foods and finding your favorites. Better yet, try something new.
Since tuna is very low in fat, most of the calories come from protein. It’s a popular fish that delivers respectable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other important nutrients.
Protein content: tuna in water runs at about 95% of calories. For 179 calories, you’ll get 39 protein grams in a 1 cup serving. (4)
- Whey Protein Powder
When you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to get a proper meal under your belt, having a can of whey protein powder on hand is the perfect solution.
This high-quality protein comes from dairy products, and has been show to help with building muscle mass as well as dropping extra pounds. (5)
Protein content: depends on the brand, but averages range between 20 and 50 grams per serving, and may be as high as 90% in some products.
- Chicken Breast
If you remove the skin from chicken breast, around 80% of the calories you’ll ingest come from protein.
Chicken breast is a well-loved food, partly because it’s easy to prepare and simply delicious as long as it’s not dry and overcooked.
Protein content: a single medium chicken breast has 53 grams of protein and will set you back about 284 calories. (6)
- Turkey Breast
Much like chicken breast, turkey breast contains very little fat, so the majority of calories also come from protein.
You can find packaged, raw turkey breast in the freezer section and bake it yourself at home; keep it on hand for a quick way to pack some protein into any meal.
Protein content: 70% of the calories come from protein; there are 24 grams and 146 calories in a 3-ounce serving. (7)
- Cottage Cheese
Unlike many other cheeses, cottage cheese is usually low in fat. The selection of vital nutrients is impressive, with excellent calcium content, as well as vitamins B2 and B12, selenium, phosphorus and others.
Protein content: at 59% of calories, protein in cottage cheese clocks in at 27 grams of protein for a cup of the 2% fat variety, with just under 200 calories. (8)
- Lean Beef
Even lean beef contains some fat, so a portion of the calories will be coming from fat rather than protein.
Beef is rich in bioavailable iron, as well as other important nutrients, including vitamin B12. Versatile in meal plans and welcome for leftovers, beef is an excellent choice for high quality protein.
Protein content: depending on the cut, expect 53% of calories in beef to come from protein; a 3-ounce serving with just under 200 calories will yield about 22 grams of protein. (9)
- Greek Yogurt
This type of yogurt has been strained, giving it the thick, rich and creamy texture that makes it such a popular choice.
Sticking with plain varieties will help keep added sugar in the diet low; low-fat Greek yogurt will be lighter on calories than the full-fat products.
Protein content: a 6-ounce serving of fat-free Greek yogurt averages 48% of calories from protein; with about a hundred calories, it’s both a bargain and a treat. (10)
All types of fish are very healthy, partly because of the concentration of essential nutrients. Fatty fish like salmon are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids to protect your heart.
Different species of fish have a varying range of protein, but eating quality fish is an excellent way to boost up your protein intake.
Protein content: salmon runs at about 46% of calories from protein; you’ll get 19 grams of protein from a 3-ounce serving with calorie count running at approximately 175. (11)
Most of the protein in eggs is found in the whites, but don’t throw away the yolks, because whole eggs are a powerhouse of nutrition.
They’re loaded with healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants that protect eye health, and nutrients to nourish your brain.
Protein content: about 35% of the calories in a whole egg come from protein; you’ll get 6 grams of protein from each whole egg you eat, at a calorie price of just under 80. (12)
A member of the legume family, lentils rank as one of the best plant-sourced proteins you can choose, so it’s popular with the vegetarian crowd.
Rich in fiber, lentils also deliver respectable amounts of other nutrients, like potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, folate and manganese.
Protein content: 27% of calories in cooked lentils are provided by protein; a 1-cup serving contains about 230 calories and has 18 grams of protein. (13)
We usually think of broccoli as a great source of fiber, potassium and vitamins C and K. These nutrients are all there for you when you eat broccoli, but it will also add some protein to your diet.
Most vegetables are light in the protein department, but broccoli packs heavier punch than most, while delivering powerful bioactive compounds that can play a role in protecting against chronic diseases.
Protein content: 20% of the calories in broccoli come from protein; eating a single cup jacks up protein intake by 3 grams with a low calorie ticket at 31. (14)
- Ezekiel Bread
Another food that isn’t always considered as a good source of protein, Ezekiel bread is different than most other breads; it’s also a great way to bump up fiber levels in your diet.
Made from sprouted seeds, legumes and grains, Ezekiel bread derives its nutritional value from base ingredients like millet, lentils, barley, wheat, soybeans and spelt.
Protein content: 20% of calories are from protein; at only 80 calories for a single slice, it’s a protein bargain with 4 grams. (15)
- Brussels Sprouts
Related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts are another vegetable that classifies as protein-rich.
Like the other members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, Brussels sprouts provide plenty of fiber, along vitamin C and other important nutrients.
Protein content: 17% of the calories in this vegetable are protein; you get 28 calories and 2 grams of protein in a half-cup serving. (16)
Touted as a superfood, quinoa is a seed/grain with a full resume of health benefits, so if you don’t already eat quinoa, consider adding it to your diet.
Quinoa is much higher in protein than other foods classified as seeds and grains, and it’s rich in antioxidants, as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Protein content: 15% of calories come from protein; with 222 calories, a cup of cooked quinoa delivers 8 grams of protein. (17)
Considered one of the healthiest grains, oats are a fiber-rich food with plenty of important nutrients to offer, including vitamin B1, manganese and magnesium.
If you’re one of those people who likes to eat grains for breakfast, oats is an excellent choice with more protein than most other grains.
Protein content: 15% of calories in oats are derived from protein; a half-cup of uncooked oats has about 300 calories and 13 grams of protein. (18)
- Pumpkin Seed
The seeds found in the center of a pumpkin are edible, delicious, and carry a significant amount of protein.
They’re especially rich in iron, zinc and magnesium, and including pumpkin seeds in your diet is another effortless way to add a few grams of protein while making sure you get vital nutrients your body needs for optimum health.
Protein content: at 14% of calories, pumpkin seeds make a dent in daily requirements; an ounce has 5 protein grams and 125 calories. (19)
This popular tree nut is another good bet for extra protein, and simple to add as a portable, tasty snack when you’re on the go.
Selling points for making almonds a regular part of your diet include the excellent fiber content, along with significant quantities of vitamin E, magnesium and manganese.
Protein content: almonds provide 13% of calories in protein; an ounce has 161 calories and 6 grams of protein. (20)
Summary: Most people can realize benefits from upping their protein intake, whether your goal is dropping a few pounds, supporting positive changes in body composition, or improving overall health. Incorporate foods from this list regularly to sneak in a few extra grams while enjoying a range of delicious flavors and textures.